Swell Classification Guidelines
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate/Utility Class: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft).
Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Saturday (10/6) North and Central CA was tiny if barely rideable up north with a mix of leftover southern hemi background swell and north windswell producing waves at thigh to waist high and clean but unremarkable. Down south in Santa Cruz southern hemi background swell was producing waves at waist high with sets to head high and clean. Southern California up north was getting mainly limited limited north windswell at knee to thigh high and clean. Down south southern hemi swell was producing sets at waist to chest high and slate glass clean. Hawaii's North Shore was coming up with new dateline swell hitting producing waves at 2 ft overhead and clean. The South Shore was getting mixed leftover southern hemi swell producing waves in the waist to chest high range and clean. The East Shore had wrap around dateline swell at waist high and lightly chopped.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
Modest swell from a tropical system that redeveloped on the dateline producing 26-28 ft seas Tues PM (10/2) is hitting Hawaii and poised to hit the California coast on Sunday (10/7). A far stronger extratropical system developed just off the Kuril Islands Fri (10/5) with seas at 49 ft and is to then fade while tracking east, redeveloping again on the dateline Sun (10/7) with seas in the 37 ft range. Decent swell is already in the water targeting Hawaii with less size expected for the US West Coast given the extraordinary long travel distance to that target. A quieter pattern to follow but not out completely. Down south a small but strong system forming under New Zealand Friday (10/5) with seas to 46 ft over a small area aimed mostly east and fading fast, effectively gone by Saturday morning. Decent swell to result for all locations. Nothing else of real interest to follow.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis plus forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Saturday (10/6) the jet was running flat east off the Southern Kuril's at 43N with winds to 140 kts setting up a bit of a trough in the West Pacific supportive of gale development. But after crossing the dateline the jet split with most energy ridging to the northeast tracking over the Eastern Aleutians and supporting high pressure down in lower levels of the atmosphere there. Over the next 72 hours the energy in the west is to start diving southeast by Sunday (10/7) down to 35N and building to 170 kts forming a steep trough on the dateline easing east then starting to pinch off on Monday. Some support for gale development there. Beyond 72 hours a consistent flow of 130 kts wins are forecast tracking flat off Japan traveling along the 40N latitude line and reaching to within 1000 nmiles of the US West Coast before being deflected north. A bit of a trough is to try and develop on the dateline Thurs (10/11) providing additional support for gale development there, but nothing real defined. Not a bad pattern and looking much like that of a weak El Nino, or at least that of the Active Phase of the MJO. The jet is to push into the Pacific Northwest late on Fri (10/12).
Surface - On Saturday (10/6) weak high pressure at 1018 mbs was providing limited protection to the US West Coast while an early season storm was churning east in the far Northwest Pacific (see West Pacific Storm below). Also small swell from a gale previously on the dateline was hitting Hawaii and bound for the US West Coast by Sunday (10/7) (see Small Dateline Gale below).
Small Dateline Gale
A small weather system started organizing just west of the dateline Tuesday AM (10/2) with an infinitesimal area of 50 kt northwest winds and seas building from 20 ft at 46N 172E. In the evening winds were fading from 45 kts over a modest area with seas peaking at 28 ft at 47N 180W (aimed right up the 302 deg path to NCal and well down the 330 deg path to HI). Wednesday AM (10/3) the gale was dissipating with winds fading from 35 kts while lifting northeast and seas dropping from 25 ft at 47N 174W. Fetch was gone by evening with seas dropping from 21 ft at 48N 169W. This system had potential to produce small moderate period swell tracking towards the US West coast with even smaller swell pushing towards the Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaii: Expect swell arrival on Saturday (10/6) with swell pushing 3 ft @ 13-14 secs (4 ft). Contrary to the forecast the Waimea buoy was indicating swell of 4.0 ft @ 14.3 secs first light Sat AM. Swell to be fading Sunday from 3.5 ft @ 11-12 secs (4 ft). Swell Direction 325 degrees
North CA: Expect swell arrival on Sunday AM (10/7) peaking at 3 ft @ 15 secs (4.5 ft). Swell fading Monday from 3 ft @ 13 secs (4 ft). Swell Direction 302 degrees.
West Pacific Storm - Storm #1 (Hawaii)
On Wed-Thurs (10/4) the remnants of Tropical Storm Maliksi were racing northeast off the Japan coast turning extra tropical, then stalled some Thursday evening off the Southern Aleutians with winds building. Seas were 36 ft at 42N 155E (307 degs HI/302 degs NCal).
Friday AM (10/5) 55 kt west winds were modeled generating 46 ft seas at 44N 160E (312 degs HI/303 degs NCal). Seas peaked at 18z at 49 ft at 44N 163E. Winds faded in the evening from 45-50 kts while the system headed due east with seas fading at 46 ft 43N 164E (314 degs HI/300 degs NCal).
Fetch was fading coming from the north and northwest at 40-45 kts Sat AM (10/6) with seas dropping from 40 ft at 41N 173E (315 degs HI/295 degs NCal). In the evening the gale is forecast to redevelop relocated to the dateline with 45 kt north winds building in the systems west quadrant with seas 33 ft at 45N 179E.
50 kt northwest winds are forecast Sunday AM (10/7) with 37 ft seas at 45N 175W (335 degs HI/296-297 degs NCal/302 degs SCal). Additional 45 kt northwest winds are to be falling southeast Sunday evening with seas dropping southeast at 36 ft at 42N 175W (329 degs HI/293 degs NCal/298 degs SCal).
On Monday AM (10/8) 35-40 kts fetch is to be fading while falling southeast towards Hawaii with seas fading from 32 ft at 38N 172W moving right towards Hawaii (328 degs Hi/286 degs NCal/292 degs SCal). Still Monday PM 35 kt northwest fetch is to be circulating just 900 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii generating more seas in the 30 ft range at 35N 165W (336 degs HI).
By Tuesday AM (10/9) the gale is to be fading and lifting northeast with 25 ft seas at 35N 158W 800 nmiles north of Hawaii but targeting locations mainly east of there on the 284 degree path to Southern CA.
Solid long period swell from the extratropical fetch that developed off the Kurils on Friday is already in the water heading towards Hawaii and the US West Coast. Hawaii will fare better given the storm closer proximity to them (18Z Fri - 2400 nmiles from HI versus 3300 NCal). Still, this was a strong extratropical storm with solid seas, and some degree of energetic swell is expected. And with the planned redevelopment of the system on the dateline, additional energy is to follow.
Hawaii: For the first part of this storm when it was off the Kurils: Expect swell arrival on Monday morning (10/8) with period 22 secs and size small but building. Swell to reach 6.6 ft @ 21 secs late (13.5 ft Hawaiian). Swell to continue upwards as the strongest energy hits Tuesday (10/9) building through the day peaking near 2 PM with pure swell to 9.5 ft @ 17-19 secs (16-18 ft Hawaiian). Swell to be fading some but still most solid on Wednesday AM (10/10) with swell 9.5-10.0 ft @ 15-17 secs (14-17 ft Hawaiian). Additional shorter period energy is expected to be intermixing with this swell if the storm reforms north of Hawaii. That energy is not included in the above forecast.
North CA: For the first part of this storm when it was off the Kurils: Expect swell arrival on Tuesday (10/9) 8 AM with period 22-23 secs and size small but building. Swell to start peaking near 10 PM with pure swell reaching 5 ft @ 20 secs (10 ft Hawaiian) and holding. Period dropping to 18-19 secs on Wed AM (10/10) with swell still 5 ft @ 18-19 secs (9 ft faces) and effectively holding through the day, as period drops to 17 secs near sunset (8.5 ft faces). Additional shorter period energy is expected to be intermixing with this swell if the storm reforms north of Hawaii. That energy is not included in the above forecast. Note: There is more than the usual uncertainty in this forecast regarding swell size.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Saturday (10/6) no tropical systems of interest were being monitored.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Saturday (10/6) high pressure at 1030 mbs was in the Gulf of Alaska riding south, but an upper low was off California deflecting it west. Nearshore a light flow was in effect for most of California, though a gradient remained over Pt Conception generating 20 kts north winds there over the Channel Islands. Those winds are to fade on Tues (10/9) with a light wind pattern expected for all of California through next weekend. There suggestions a weak front might move to within 100 nmiles of the North CA coast on Friday (10/12), but not precipitation is expected to reach land. Were in a typical Fall weather pattern.
Surface - On Saturday (10/6) no swell producing fetch of interest was occurring. Over the next 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast.
New Zealand Storm
On Friday AM (10/5) a storm developed under New Zealand with 55 kt southwest winds at 56S 160E in the CA swell window and pushing unshadowed right up the 218 degree path (shadowed by New Zealand relative to HI) and seas building to 42 ft over an tiny area at 56S 160E. In the evening fetch was fading from 45 kts with seas 46 ft at 53S 165E (pushing right up the 218 degree path to CA and still just barely shadowed relative to HI on the 201 degree path). Fetch was effectively gone Sat AM (10/6) at 35 kts with seas from previous fetch fading from 36 ft at 51S 175E (215 degs CA and 197 degs HI).
Expect swell arrival in Hawaii on Friday (10/12) with period 20 secs and size tiny if even noticeable reaching 1 ft @ 19 secs late (2 ft). Swell to peak on Sat (10/13) at 1.4 ft @ 17 secs early (2.0-2.5 ft faces). Note: the best part of this storm was shadowed by New Zealand relative to the Islands.
Some small long period but well spaced out swell is possible for California starting Sat (10/13) with period 22 secs and size tiny if even noticeable, building some on Sunday (10/14) with period at 20 secs at 9 AM, peaking in the afternoon into mid-day Monday (10/15) at 3.2 ft @ 18-19 secs (6 ft faces). Period turning to 17 secs at 11 PM. Long waits between sets but a decent number of waves per set when they come. Swell Direction: 217-219 degrees
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hours there's suggestions of additional gale energy building on the dateline on Thurs (10/11) with winds to 40 kts and seas to 25 ft over a small area pushing flat west to east, then fading Friday. Small background swell to possibly result. Nothing is charted behind it.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather cycle that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized in it's Inactive Phase by enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is in control of, and in it's Active Phase by slack if not an outright reversal of trade winds and enhanced precipitation. The oscillation occurs in roughly 20-30 day cycles (Inactive for 20-30 days, then Active for 20-30 days) over any single location on the planet. During the Active Phase in the Pacific the MJO tends to support the formation of stronger and longer lasting gales resulting in enhanced potential for the formation of swell producing storms. During the Inactive Phase the jet stream tends to split resulting in high pressure and less potential for swell producing storm development. The paragraphs below analyze the state of the MJO in the Pacific and provide forecasts for MJO activity (which directly relate to the potential for swell production).
As of Saturday (10/6) the daily Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) was holding near neutral at 2.64. The 30 day average was down some at 1.78 with the 90 day average rising slightly at -1.01. This is neutral territory and not indicative of El Nino.
Current equatorial wind analysis indicated continued west anomalies over the Maritime Continent (WPac) but far less potent than days previous. Neutral if not light east anomalies were in control rest of the way across the equatorial Pacific into Central America. This suggests that a weak Westerly Wind Burst (WWB) that started Sept 2 in the West Pacific and continued for 21 days in a row through 9/22 then faded on 9/25 only to return with gusto on 9/28 was finally loosing it's ground starting 10/4, but was still in play. This is great for setting up a Kelvin Wave and feeding warm water eastward. A modest version of the Active Phase of the MJO remained in control over the West Pacific. A week from now (10/14) weak to modest easterly anomalies are forecast to be trying to settle in over the Maritime Continent fading on the dateline then rebuilding some over the East Pacific suggesting perhaps a return of a weak flavor of the Inactive Phase. Even if that happens, we have had a good long run of the Active Phase (since at least 9/1).
The longer range models (dynamic and statistical) run on 10/3 remain in agreement for the short term suggesting the Active Phase is in-play over the West Pacific. The Inactive Phase is building in the Indian Ocean, stronger than anytime so far this year and is forecast starting to move into the far West Pacific about a week out. The Inactive Phase is to be in control 2 weeks out.
More warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Warmer than normal water accumulated off Ecuador through 7/2 (part of a continuous pattern that started in Jan 2012) fueled by a Kelvin Wave, weaker than normal trades and a MJO pattern dominated by the Active Phase in early April and a continued weak MJO signal beyond. The warm water pattern peaked on 7/2 in an unmistakable El Nino-like configuration. But since then a steady but weak degradation of the warm pool has ensued. Starting in early September imagery depicted a thin track of cooler than normal water snaking it's way west through the heart of the warm pool off Ecuador. The latest update on 10/4 depicts the thin cool water trend building out to the mid-equatorial Pacific with actual pulses of cooler water trying to get a foothold over much of the tropical East Pacific. The warm pool certainly looks to be loosing ground.
We've also been tracking the cool pool that has dominated between California and Hawaii, generated by 2 years of La Nina and stronger than normal high pressure there. There's no real signs it is weakening and is still quite obvious and a force to be reckoned with atmospherically.
Something that looked very much like a weak Kelvin Wave propagated east both subsurface (2-3 deg C anomaly at 118W) and at the surface (1 deg C anomaly), moving east of 120 and off the charts by 9/17. If this is real, it would help to replenish the warm water pool maybe 3-4 weeks out (early Oct), but nowhere near the levels it was in July (our best guess).
The models (CFSv2) also picked up on the decline in water temps in the Nino 3.4 region in late Sept and is suggesting a slow but steady decline in temps with the NIno3.4 region back to neutral by late January, with a bit of a building up forecast there after. This suggests the Kelvin Wave (mentioned above) pushing east will add little fuel. And if in fact the WWB that occurred 9/2-10/4 in the far West Pacific is productive, another Kelvin Wave could result with additional warming expected 90 days out (Dec). But that will only be enough to keep things in the normal range. Concerns of a building small cool pool of -2 C water building subsurface at 140W is no longer an issue. It was a response to the July-August slowdown in warm water eastward transport. But a building pool of warmer subsurface water at +1 C is depicted in the far West Pacific (160E to 160W), likely the new Kelvin Wave (mentioned above). We assume it will dislodge whatever cool pool develops at 140W.
A weak MJO pattern (both Active and Inactive Phases) is a sign of the weak version of El Nino. Strong Active Phases accompanied by Westerly Wind Bursts (WWB) is a sign of a stronger El Nino. Given the data to date, the current event is looking more like a weak El Nino at best. As we move into the Fall months (starting late August), the tendency is for whatever pattern has been dominant to only become amplified. In short, the true MJO character will become exposed in Fall, with summer just being a build-up. The expectation is that a near failure of the MJO could occur with trades fading and more slow-but-steady warm water propagation continuing eastward. If this happens the question then becomes: Will it be slow enough and weak enough to turn into a multi-year warm event, or will the atmosphere switch as usual in February 2013 and usher in a new La Nina. As of right now, with a weak MJO pattern in play, and only one WWBs in play for months now, the declining warm pool, and the projections from the CFSv2 model, our bets are for this warm event to perhaps reach minimal El Nino status, if not decay to neutral. And this would actually be a good thing (see final paragraph).
At this time there is only limited atmospheric evidence of a possible El Nino pattern in-play. Remnants of La Nina are still affecting the atmosphere and will likely continue for several months into the middle of Fall (mid-Oct), but steadily degrading. One such indicator is the continued presence of high pressure over the Eastern Pacific. It has been locked in place for 2 years now and it's momentum is not going to be easily be halted. The high has caused unrelenting north winds pushing down the California coast and stronger than normal trades over Hawaii. The high is evidenced by a large pool of cooler than normal water radiating southeast off California and over Hawaii reaching the equator at the dateline, the result of enhanced upwelling. Recent imagery suggest the high is shifting west and north some and winds along the California coast are becoming less of an issue. But there has been no change in local water temperatures off Central and North CA.
We're in a hybrid atmospheric state but the trend is starting to shift more towards the normal category. The longer the MJO remains biased towards a neutral or Active state, and the longer warm water holds if not builds off Central America, and the more the cool pool fades between CA and HI, the more the atmosphere will respond (especially come Fall) turning towards at least a neutral if not an El Nino-like configuration. The atmosphere is like a big ship, it takes a long time and alot of energy to turn. We remain on the bubble as of this date. Historical Note: It is unusual for El Nino (of any magnitude) to develop directly following 2 years of La Nina. The good news is there evidence o tropical system recurving northeast and migrating to the dateline, and not a moment too soon.
As of right now its seems the Active Phases of the MJO are not strong enough to usher in some flavor of real El Nino, but the Inactive Phases are not strong enough to shut off the warm water pump to the East Pacific either. Regardless, we are effectively past the La Nina hump and the tendency will be for a return to a normal if not slightly El Nino-like enhanced state. This is way better than where we've been for the past 2 years (under the influence of La Nina). The preference is that El Nino does not form this year, because that would only usher in another La Nina the year or two beyond. Rather, a neutral pattern biased slightly warm would be good, followed by at least another year of slightly warmer temps ultimately converging in a stronger El Nino 2-3 years out. And historically, this is the 'normal' pattern (a few years of false starts before a legit El Nino forms).So it will be interesting to see whether the pattern we are currently in is a tease or the real thing. The preference is for a tease with a slowly building storm pattern occurring over a multi-year period, culminating with a real El Nino 2 or more years beyond.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino update.
Beyond 72 hours no swell producing fetch is forecast.
Details to follow...
External Reference Material: El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Kelvin Wave
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Chasing the Swell has been nominated for a Webby Award. See details of this great piece of video journalism below. Some say this is the "Oscars" of online awards.One of the awards is voter based. If you have a moment, please cast your ballot by going to: http://webby.aol.com, register, then click on the "Get Voting" tab and then to the "Online Film and Video" > "Sports" category and vote for "Chasing the Swell".
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Chasing The Swell: Sachi Cunningham from the LA Times spent the entirety of last winter chasing surfers and swells around the North Pacific with her high def video cam. Her timing couldn't have been any better with the project exactly coinciding with the strongest El Nino in 12 years resulting in the best big wave season in a decade. And being an accomplished surfer herself helped her to bring a poignant and accurate account of the what it's like to ride big waves and the new (and some not so new) personalities that are revitalizing the sport. This is must-see material for any surfer or weather enthusiast. Check it out here: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chasingtheswell/
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Surf Height-Swell Height Correlation Table